A Challenge to the Sector for an Evidence-Driven Future: How EdTech Can Be Used to Help Address the Global Learning Crisis

To address the global learning crisis, there must be a fundamental change in how technology is used in education. As global leaders join together in the coming days to commit to action at the Transforming Education Summit, we call for collaboration across the sector to build an evidence-driven future for EdTech in low- and middle-income countries, and explain the steps required to achieve it together.

Investment in EdTech in low- and middle-income countries is growing rapidly, but we have not yet realised the potential of technology to improve learning outcomes at scale. This situation is a significant disservice to the millions of children around the world who are not learning — in or out of school. Uncritical optimism or non-specific pessimism tend to dominate discussion of EdTech throughout the global education community. Both sides can draw on practical examples of EdTech usage that supports their positions. We need to move beyond this tendency towards binary argument and instead centralise the role of evidence in EdTech — generating and using robust and relevant evidence to drive better decision-making. 

We encourage and provoke everyone working in EdTech to define themselves as evidence-based decision-makers.

We encourage and provoke everyone working in EdTech to define themselves as evidence-based decision-makers. It is imperative that specific, strategic action is taken to build a future where the high promise of the input of technology into education is matched by significant improvements in learning outcomes: this is our case for how we get there.

EdTech interventions should be designed and implemented on the basis of what works to improve learning in education, and on what we know works in EdTech. They should also embed rigorous experimentation to learn more about ‘what works’ in each specific context, and then apply the learning and adapt to become more effective. The generation and application of evidence should be undertaken in an integrated way, aligned with government, and using embedded research. Efforts to share evidence should always be responsive to the political and contextual factors and the incentives and constraints that influence evidence use. This all requires commitment from a broad coalition of stakeholders to champion a culture of evidence-based decision-making in EdTech. 

Every group of decision-makers working in EdTech — governments, developers, implementers, researchers, funders, and teachers and school leaders — should become obsessed with asking and finding answers to the following five questions.

  1. Will this use of technology lead to a sustained impact on learning outcomes?
  2. Will this use of technology work for the most marginalised children and enhance equity?
  3. Will this use of technology be feasible to scale in a cost-effective manner that is affordable for the context?
  4. Will this use of technology be effective in the specific implementation context?
  5. Will this use of technology align with government priorities and lead to the strengthening of national education systems?

Each of these questions can sometimes be answered with a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but also — and more significantly — each one requires a detailed response and iterative cycles of reflection focused on the ‘how’ the ‘why’ and ‘to what extent’ behind the responses given.

Prioritising these five questions will help every group working in EdTech to embed a culture of evidence within their activities and decision-making. This is not simply a benevolent agenda: by committing to prioritising evidence-based decision-making, everyone working in EdTech will benefit and become better able to address their own challenges, increase their own effectiveness, and achieve their own objectives. 

There are also specific things that should be done by each group working in EdTech in order to prioritise evidence and realise its benefits:

  • Prioritising evidence in EdTech will enable government decision-makers to use EdTech to more fully meet their national education objectives and provide learning at scale for all children. To realise these benefits, decision-makers should ensure that all EdTech activities in the country are justified on the basis of impact on educational outcomes (whether direct or indirect); required to share transparent and independently verified financial models for interventions and; aligned with the rest of the national education strategy, system, and related national systems.
  • Prioritising evidence in EdTech will enable EdTech developers and vendors to improve their chances of long-term success and scale-up. To realise these benefits, developers and vendors should ensure that EdTech products are built based on appropriate evidence; aligned with the national curriculum and teaching and learning frameworks of the country of implementation; promoted on the basis of what is cost-effective and affordable and; positioned at the leading edge of the market by tracking and using data to enable teaching and learning at the appropriate level. 
  • Prioritising evidence in EdTech will enable organisations implementing EdTech to more effectively reach their strategic objectives and help children to learn. To realise these benefits, implementers should ensure that EdTech implementation is driven by the best of education evidence; based on iterative design including user research; undertaken in close collaboration with researchers to facilitate effective adaptation and; designed to track and communicate anticipated outcomes with findings shared publicly and regularly. 
  • Prioritising evidence in EdTech will enable organisations researching and assessing EdTech to achieve increased impact and buy-in for their work. To realise these benefits, researchers should ensure that research on EdTech is focused on priority evidence gaps to build critical masses of evidence; conducted as openly as possible with shared datasets, methods, and early-stage findings; undertaken in close collaboration with implementing organisations and users (students, teachers, school leaders, families); structured to centralise the role of EdTech researchers within the country where the research is taking place and focused on pathways to effective uptake. 
  • Prioritising evidence in EdTech will enable donors funding EdTech to work in a manner aligned with their own impact criteria and educational goals. To realise these benefits, funders should ensure that the funding of EdTech interventions is considered as part of a broader education funding portfolio; prioritises implementations that have evidence building embedded throughout and are based on realistic cost models for learning at scale and; used to exert positive influence across all groups working in EdTech to take the steps required of them to champion evidence within their work. 
  • Prioritising evidence in EdTech will enable teachers and school leaders to make more effective use of EdTech within their work because products and implementations will be better aligned with their needs. To realise these benefits, all other groups involved in EdTech outlined above should centralise the expertise and real-world requirements of teachers and school leaders within their work; evidence should be built based on the experiences and feedback of teachers and school leaders and; evidence products should be made available in formats where they can be used to help shape and improve practices at the school level.

Building a culture of evidence-based decision-making among all those involved in EdTech is the single most significant thing that can be done to ensure that technology is used in ways that help address the global learning crisis. World leaders are focused on the transformational power of education— specifically how to improve coordination, collaboration, and global support to all learners, especially the most marginalised. For EdTech to play its role in helping to transform education we need all stakeholders to find unity of purpose through committing to an evidence-driven future. This is a bold but achievable ambition that requires a radical shift from current practices. 

Read the full paper on which this challenge is based. The paper provides analysis of the problems faced, plus detailed and practical solutions for how we can all contribute to building an evidence-driven future for EdTech to help address the global learning crisis.

Special thanks: This blog and the associated paper have been improved through the detailed input of expert reviewers. Particular thanks go to Waleed Al Ali, Ian Attfield, Vicky Collis, Mike Dawson, Donika Dimovska, Laila Friese, Sara Hennessy, Molly Jamieson Eberhardt, Tom Kaye, Saalim Koomar, Verna Lalbeharie, Joel Mitchell, Emily Morris, Jamie Proctor, Jennifer Simmons Kaleba, Lea Simpson, Jackie Strecker, Hiruy Teka, and Tim Unwin.

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